Young, Restless, Reformed: a journalist's journey with the new Calvinists,
Colin Hansen, Crossway, 2008, 160pp
Colin Hansen, Crossway, 2008, 160pp
Colin Hansen, a journalist with Christianity Today spent two years of his life mixing it with some of the top movers and shakers in Reformed Christianity in America. He had begun to notice a resurgence of interest in Reformed theology in some unexpected places and set out to investigate some of the reasons for this theological and spiritual renewal. It seems that a new generation of believers has grown tired with bog standard evangelicalism. They want depth, truth, and reality. And they are looking to Reformed theology, or more precisely, the sovereign God of biblical revelation to satisfy their longings and transform their lives.
Large conferences such as Passion, New Attitude and Together for the Gospel have exposed a new generation of believers to the Reformed faith. The ministry of John Piper is another factor. Piper's preaching (freely broadcast on the internet) and his books such as Desiring God have had a huge impact. Many cite Piper as the reason why they embraced the Reformed faith. But the Minneapolis pastor is certainly not the only influential figure. The long and faithful ministry of R. C. Sproul has had an effect. Al Mohler has been busily taking the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary back to its Calvinistic roots. Thousands of men are now leaving the seminary with Reformed convictions. As well as preachers with a more traditional Reformed stance like John MacArthur, leaders usually associated with the Charismatic movement are helping to spread the word. C. J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries is both Charismatic and Reformed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem have also helped to introduce Charismatics, who are sometimes a little light on doctrine to the wonders of Reformed theology. The controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll is reaching the unreachable with a combination of missional engagement with the culture and good old Calvinistic theology.
There are several key features of this renewed fascination with Calvinism. It seems to be a movement comprising mainly of the up and coming generation of believers who are weary with seeker sensitive megachurches. Reformed student missions are having a real impact on American campuses. It is young people who gather in their thousands at the large conference meetings.
The resurgence of the Reformed faith has crossed the dividing line between traditional Calvinistic churches and the Charismatic movement. This has had an impact on the worship style adopted at Together for the Gospel and other big conferences. Perhaps we can see something similar happening in the UK at the New Word Alive events. New Frontiers Charismatics who have embraced Reformed doctrine gather with Free Church and Anglican evangelicals to hear the likes of Don Carson against the backdrop of Charismatic style worship. It is surely a good thing that Charismatics are being drawn to the doctrines of grace. We should rejoice in that. But there are still some differences between the traditional Reformed Churches and our Reformed Charismatic brethren. The use of noisy music groups, song leaders and other accouterments of Charismatic worship is one of them. Then there is the issue of the continuation or not of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Charismatic theology sometimes does not give enough emphasis to the fact that the Holy Spirit is active in the church in, by and with the Word. I'm not saying that fellowship with Calvinistic Charismatics should be curtailed, not at all. We stand united by the gospel of sovereign grace, but real differences should not be swept under the carpet.
The name of John Piper seems to pop up again and again in the book. I hope there isn't a danger of the new Calvinism becoming overly reliant on one man. In the second half of the 20th century Reformed evangelicalism in the UK was dominated by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his death left a huge hole in the movement. Still today discussion in fraternals and conferences can be brought to a shuddering halt when an old timer recalls something that "the Doctor" said on an issue. Leadership of the Reformed resurgence in the States seems to be more collegiate. Perhaps there is less reliance on one central figure than was the case with "the Doctor", but a glance at the index will show that Piper does seem to feature rather a lot in Hansen's account.
Among the new Calvinists there is an appreciation for Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans. A chapter is devoted to Edwards, the 'Big Man on Campus' at Yale university. But above all, it seems that people are embracing Calvinism because they have seen that the Reformed faith is the faith of Scripture, deep and true. And contrary to what a UK-based critic of the new Calvinism had to say (see here), I don't think that what we have here is a merger of Calvinism and worldliness. From what I can see the "Young, Restless, Reformed" aren't simply embracing a form of intellectual Calvinism. They have gathered that truth properly understood transforms lives and calls for radical obedience to Christ. Some of them have endured painful opposition from their churches as they preached the sovereignty of God in salvation. At best they are passionate for holiness and concerned to reach the masses with the gospel of grace. New churches are being planted and there is a strong desire to proclaim Christ to the nations. We should not reject this movement as "worldly" simply because of concerns over musical styles. Reformed catholicity of spirit demands that love for the truth should be recognised and encouraged wherever we find it. Worldliness cannot be defined by a list of evangelical taboos. That approach is more Fundamentalist than Reformed.
Maybe I'm not best placed to judge on this, but I think that Hansen is overstating his case in suggesting that what we have here is revival. However, we should be grateful that many in America are returning to the deep wells of Reformed theology. A recovery of vibrant Calvinism that is God-centred, Christ exalting and Spirit dependent is surely to be welcomed.